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First of Its Kind Report Will Torpedo Child Support Lunacies

June 16, 2016
By: Ned Holstein, MD, MS Founder and Chair of the Board, National Parents Organization

National Parents Organization is pleased to announce a very large child support project we will undertake over the next year.

We will write the first comprehensive study of child support policies from the point of view of the entire family. Up until now, almost all of the millions of pages devoted to the topic of child support have only been about the wellbeing of the custodial parent.

As soon as I make this claim, there will be outraged replies from our opponents, who will loudly proclaim that child support is about the child, not the custodial parent. This can easily be disproven. First, since there is no obligation on the part of the custodial parent to use the child support she receives on behalf of the child, the claim is immediately disproven. In fact, when I served on the Task Force to review the Child Support Guidelines of Massachusetts, I faced unanimous opposition to including a list of the kinds of child-related expenses that the custodial parent was expected to pay for -- like clothes and school activity fees, etc -- in return for receipt of child support. In other words, no accountability.

Secondly, many child support policies are demonstrably injurious to the children they allegedly help. Any child support policy that impoverishes either parent is harmful to the child, since a deeply impoverished parent simply cannot function well as a parent. The home may be ramshackle, the working hours long, the demoralization great, and so on.

And finally, it is common to find that subsequent children or stepchildren of the payer of child support are often impoverished compared to the children of the first relationship because of excessive child support orders. Passionate stepmothers often tell me, “My children have holes in their sneakers while hers [the children of the first mother] take European ski vacations.”

For all these reasons it is abundantly clear that child support policies have been designed with the welfare of the custodial parent in mind, not the children, despite all the platitudes used to camouflage the truth.

The report will analyze a broad variety of issues. These will include an analysis of who writes the Child Support Guidelines in each state, what their qualifications are, whether any are noncustodial parents, whether they are accountable to the public, when was the most recent review, when is the next review scheduled, how transparent is the process, and what has been the degree of public participation. We will examine conflicts of interest among those who have developed Child Support Guidelines. We will also look at the possible counter-productive effects of the federal incentive payments to the states for the collection of child support. We will examine the internal contradictions and intellectual incoherence of the stated child support principles and policies. For instance, we will examine the literature that finds that child wellbeing does not continue to increase after household income increases above a certain point. And we will ask whether the stated basis for allowing the state to impose higher burdens on divorced parents than on married parents makes intellectual or legal sense.We will ask why the payer has a legally-binding order to perform at a prescribed level of earning, while the recipient has no legally binding obligations at all, other than the very, very low bar of avoiding outright neglect of the child.

For the first time ever, we will ask the question whether there is such a thing as too much child support when analyzed in view of the best interest of the child. We will specifically look at how excessive child support orders cripple parenting by forcing payers to work extra-long hours and move far away to cheaper, child-unfriendly housing. We will look at the tendency of excessive child support orders to create an incentive for bitter custody battles.

We will calculate child support orders in the 50 states and compare them. We will also compare them to various scholarly articles that have attempted to quantify the costs of raising children. We will pay particular attention to the 2015 article by economists Comanor, Sarro and Rogers in Research in Law and Economics, Volume 27, 209-251. This article argues persuasively that a “marginal cost approach” is the only rational means of estimating child raising cost. The article concludes, “At the same time, our findings leave little doubt but that current estimates of the cost of raising children, along with the child support awards that rest on them, are substantially overstated.”

We will further analyze the income and standard of living of the payer and the recipient in each of the 50 states when tax law is also taken into account. We will examine how guidelines in each state deal with the very poor, the middle class, and the very wealthy. We will examine the degree to which the 50 states have created meaningful “self-support reserves” for the very poor. We will see how many states have heeded the warnings of the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement, of all things, about the harm of excessive child support orders for poor payers. And we will look at special issues affecting the wealthy, such as spousal support masquerading as child support, awards that exceed any reasonable state interest in the welfare of the child, the crippling of small business cash flow and ability to borrow and the unpredictability of child support orders for those whose incomes are above the upper limits of the guidelines.

We will examine whether the subsequent children and stepchildren of the payer are discriminated against by the legal requirement to pay child support to the parent of earlier children.

We will research the age of child support emancipation in each state, add-ons such as healthcare, childcare, and college expenses, the definition of “income” in each state, and how overtime and second jobs are treated.

Finally, we will examine excessive interest and penalties on unpaid arrearages of child support.

As you can see, this report will be unprecedented in scope and depth. It will be a torpedo aimed at the self-righteous platitudes of those who make huge awards of child support for other people to pay. It will expose the intellectual bankruptcy of child support policy. And it will expose the ways in which child support policy currently hurts many children rather than helping them.

If you have analytical, writing, research, economic or computational skills, we invite your volunteer participation and urge you to contact me at [email protected] to volunteer your time on our Task Force.

Finally, if you think this huge task is worthwhile, please support our efforts by making a gift This project will require major expenses for research interns, economists and publication expenses. Please help us produce a groundbreaking analysis that can then be used to fight excessive child support awards in every state.

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